Krzysztof Kieślowski completed his Three Colours trilogy with what was to be his final film. With music by Zbigniew Preisner, it is an almost supernatural contrivance: brooding on coincidence, fate and the insoluble mystery of other people’s lives, with some cosmic parallels and existential echoes that recall his earlier film The Double Life of Véronique. And all in a tone somehow both playful and laden with gnomic seriousness.
At its centre is Valentine, played by Irène Jacob, a model who has a job posing for a chewing gum billboard campaign; her image is to dominate the Paris streets and she briefly achieves a kind of anonymous celebrity – a part of the story which makes Three Colours: Red a New Wave sort of film. During the shoot, the photographer had sensed that she should pose with a desperately sad expression in dramatic profile, with wet-looking hair, against a vivid red background. This is explained by the surreally calamitous ending which also ties up threads from the first two movies, Blue and White, in ways that might seem glib but have their own strange impact.
Valentine accidentally runs over a dog in her car one night and, in an agony of guilt for the poor creature’s pain, takes it to the emergency vet, pays the bill and visits the owner, having found the address on the dog’s collar. This is cantankerous, misanthropic retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who amuses himself by eavesdropping on his neighbours’ cordless telephone conversations using an FM radio. Valentine is disgusted by his invasion of people’s privacy and something in her ingenuous idealism and courage in confronting him, touches his gnarled old heart; a friendship develops and he shrewdly intuits her personal family pain. Meanwhile, a law student neighbour of Valentine’s called Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) is living a life with enigmatic resemblances to both Valentine and Kern. Auguste is very jealous of his girlfriend (Valentine has an obsessively jealous boyfriend) and his law career is eerily like Kern’s as a young man; his romantic life also.
The dramatic impetus of this film comes from Kern’s need to confess to Valentine, to submit to her judgment. He tells her how he once acquitted a man of a serious charge and later became convinced that he was wrong to do so and that the man was guilty. Yet having discovered from Kern that this man subsequently lived a placidly blameless life, she says that this wrong verdict was the right one, that he “saved” the man who repaid fate for his miraculous deliverance by going straight. Or perhaps it is rather that punishment would have coarsened and perverted an essentially decent nature.
Who can tell? About that or anything else? Perhaps these are the questions behind each of the Three Colours films in all their black-comic contrivance. It looks far-fetched to see these characters popping up in each other’s films – each other’s universes – but then in the real world, we all really are on the periphery of each other’s lives. When we shrug at the enigma of what total strangers are thinking and feeling, then these films, in their novelistic way, rebuke our incurious habits; these people are like us and, in a way, they are us.
The Three Colours trilogy is a highly wrought, intensely controlled and self-aware creation, high arthouse cinema of the sort that isn’t as fashionable as it was, but utterly distinctive and absorbing.